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Why A Story About Product Failure Received an Immortal Commendation


Howatson+Company’s ‘Rejected Ales’ campaign for Matilda Bay Brewery caught the attention of international jurors at the 2022 Immortal Awards, reports Esther Faith Lew

Why A Story About Product Failure Received an Immortal Commendation

The brief from Matilda Bay Brewery was to sell “The Beer That No One Asked For”. In response to that, Howatson+Company came up with a story about failure to talk about perfection. It’s unexpected. It’s atypical. And it got the attention of international jurors at 2022 Immortal Awards, receiving a coveted commendation for its entry on ‘Rejected Ales’.

2022 was an outstanding year for ‘Rejected Ales’, winning a handful of Cannes Lions, a Grand Prix at LIA and nine D&AD pencils, where Howatson+Company was named Independent Agency of the Year, says Gavin Chimes, executive creative director at Howatson+Company. “It was very satisfying to be recognised against competitors with far greater budgets, giving validation that a powerful idea will still win at these global award shows.”

Gavin Chimes

Gavin adds, “The brilliant thing about the Immortal Awards is that they not only celebrate the best creative ideas in the world, they also celebrate ideas that will endure and continue to influence the advertising industry long after they’ve stopped running. We’re humbled to have received a commendation for this idea and believe judges responded well to three key areas.” 

The strategy for Howatson+Company was to run counter to the typical approach of telling ingredient and providence stories in its product category. Following on that, the level of craft applied to the campaign and its creativity in treating retailers and the in-store environment as its key communications channel made it a campaign with ‘Immortal’ qualities.

“From the packaging design to the stories on the back of the cans to our launch film, we were meticulous about making sure every detail of every touchpoint celebrated rejection in the best way possible,” shares Gavin. When it came to orchestrating the campaign, the agency focused on getting retailers to stock the Original Ales in order to grow sales, with the goal of getting more consumers to purchase high-margin products.

“Rejected Ales’ set the benchmark by “disrupting the three feet of purchase” and “punching above its weight”. The campaign was strong in its ability to drive purchase intent in-store and it found unique ways to “cut through the retail clutter – whether in retailers or at the pub”.  Additionally, a tight budget forced the agency to think disruptively to “subvert category conventions”. 

As Gavin says, “Just because it’s not a TV brief, doesn’t mean you can’t make world-famous work.”

LBB> What was the brief from the client and what objectives and issues were identified?


Gavin> Our overarching brief was to sell “The Beer That No One Asked For”. Master brewer Phil Sexton had his heart set on brewing the craft beer of his dreams – a delicious yet traditional European ‘Golden Ale’, at a time when Aussies mostly just wanted to drink Lagers, Pales and Hazys. 

More specifically we had two core objectives for this campaign: to get Original Ale ranged in more places (increase physical availability); to get craft beer drinkers to buy (and love) the product


LBB> Beyond the creativity, what were the contributing factors for its effectiveness in generating a sales increase that’s 30x that of the original ale?


Gavin>There were two key contributing factors that drove effectiveness for this campaign:

Our strategy of turning failure into a positive. At its heart, this idea is a product campaign that illustrates Matilda Bay’s quest to brew the perfect craft beer. The majority of other craft beers try to sell the same story in the same manner– the finest ingredients, the most innovative brewing process, a place of origin. We told our story in a unique and genuinely interesting way, using an insight from the brewers themselves – that their master brewer rejected 27 perfectly delicious beers before arriving at one he deemed worthy of the Matilda Bay label. In this way, we leaned into the brands’ failures, as opposed to its success, which completely zagged the category and earned us salience and fame. 

Hijacking the final three feet to purchase. We didn’t have the media budgets to compete with Matilda Bay’s competitors. So, we kept our focus simple and single-minded – driving as much presence as possible in-store. First, we created bespoke Rejected Ales fridges for bottle shops that housed cans for all 27 Rejected Ales cans in sequence, as well as the end result: the perfectly crafted Original Ale. This not only gave us a high-impact branded installation in-store, but it was also a key selling-point for bottle-shops to stock us in the first place, as it provided a unique experience that kept punters in-store for longer as they read the stories. And as icing on the cake, these fridges also created additional craft beer fridge real estate in the very cluttered bottle stores - and we had 100% share of those fridges. 

We also made stocking Original Ale appealing for both the retailers and shoppers by offering a unique gift-with-purchase mechanic. When a customer bought a 4-pack of Original Ale, they received a free Rejected Ale can. The retailers loved this because it drove a high-margin purchase for them and got punters returning to buy more Original Ale so that they could try the other Rejected Ales. This programme was clearly communicated in-store through a distinctive suite of point-of-sale comms.

LBB> What were the challenges of advertising this product category?


Gavin> One was selling a product no one asked for. As noted above, Original Ale was dubbed “The Beer That No One Asked For” and bucked craft beer drinking trends in Australia. This made it especially difficult to sell into retailers and therefore made achieving our objectives an uphill battle.

Second challenge is the downward trend in mental and physical availability for craft breweries in Australia. When Matilda Bay was founded in 1983, there were no other craft breweries in Australia. Today, there are well over 600, all competing for the same limited fridge space (which hasn’t grown in line with the proliferation of craft beer brands over the last few decades). We knew we had to stand out from this clutter.

Third was the shoe-string budget in a category notorious for big ads. Finally, we needed to do all of this in a way that would cut through with a miniscule budget, in the category that created some of Australia’s most beloved blockbuster beer campaigns.

LBB> How does this campaign reflect the work ethos and creative signature of Howatson+Company?


Gavin> At Howatson+Company we have brought a wide range of disciplines under one roof – strategy, creative, media, technology, data, influence and more. We harness the power of these diverse skill sets by combining unlikely disciplines to create unique breakthroughs. 

We call the process of bringing these great minds together ‘Intersectional Creativity’. This allows us to not just create brilliant ideas with brilliant craft but orchestrate them brilliantly too. Rejected Ales is the perfect example of this. 

LBB> Who were the key minds behind this campaign that really pulled out the fireworks in their respective fields? How did they exemplify the agency’s work methodology?


Gavin> Rejected Ales was a year in the making. It was only made possible by the passion and dedication of a brilliant team both at Howatson+Company and Matilda Bay. 

James Aris, Head of Marketing at Matilda Bay, was a true champion of the idea from day one. He acted as a partner, not a client, and helped us push the idea through the business and craft every element. This would not have happened without his constant commitment and trust.

Brogen Averil + Ellena Mills, our hero designers for Rejected Ales, championed the distinctive design system that lives across the products and campaign. They were greatly supported by our art directors, Giles Watson + Tom McPhail.

Tim Smith + Will Halstead spent hundreds of hours crafting the 27 stories that lived on the cans of the Rejected Ales. Each is a story worthy of a book deal. The copy is smart, entertaining, a little bit insane and in total service of the idea. 

Ollie Wearne + Madde King, our brilliant account team. They tirelessly made this campaign happen, going above and beyond to support the client, sales team, creatives and more. This included helping hand-pack boxes of beer and assisting in labelling the cans.

And of course, Holly Alexander, our head of production. There’s nothing she can’t get done. And she always makes the work better.

While these people pulled out the fireworks for Rejected Ales, many other departments at Howatson+Company helped drive it, including PR, Tech and Media. Only by working together and seeing each role as a chance to express creativity, could the campaign achieve the success it did. This is the epitome of our ethos at the agency.


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Howatson+Company, Wed, 01 Feb 2023 05:47:35 GMT